1001 Albums: White Light/White Heat

#104

Album_104_Original

Artist: Velvet Underground

Album: White Light/White Heat

Year: 1968

Length: 40:13

Genre: Experimental Rock / Noise Rock / Proto-Punk

“White light, White light goin’ messin’ up my brain
White light, Aww white light its gonna drive me insane
White heat, Aww white heat it tickle me down to my toes
White light, Aww white light I said now goodness knows, do it”

This might be the album that has me liking the Velvet Underground. Their debut just didn’t really do it for me and felt more like a Hipster’s wet dream than anything else. But here, they take on a completely different approach to their music and it’s one that captivated me and kept me hooked… for the most part. If I had to choose between the two I would definitely pick this one over their debut any day. I’m not sure about their future albums and how they are, since I have never listened to them, but if the band continues in the direction that this one started, than it’ll be a band I’ll slowly gain a liking to.

A big contrast here is that they take a proto-punk and noise rock sound to their music, which is an incredibly different approach than their more artistic and “pretty” sounding melodies that they expertly crafted. Here they left place for improvisation (their final song just goes on for 14 minutes on pure improvised guitar solos) and a hard rock sound before hard rock really even existed. The distorted guitar sounds would be incredibly influential for future punk bands and this album can easily be seen as paving the way for punk music.

The opening track sucked me in. Wait this was Velvet Underground? I was surprised in the best possible way. If the entire album was like this, I was set. Unfortunately it was followed by an almost 9-minute song that is basically just John Cale doing story time in a deadpan way. It’s a hit or miss song, you either love it or hate it. I unfortunately hated it. it felt long and repetitive and you catch the twist of the ending incredibly early that you feel like the rest of the time is just wasted time. Nothing wrong with telling stories in your music (most do) but here it just feels out of place with the rest of the songs and just doesn’t do it for me. This album (in my opinion) could have done without this song and had a different one in it’s place that matched the rest of the album.

Going through the album once, I wish I understood the lyrics. I only found out afterwards what the lyrical content was while doing some mild research for it and had to do a double-take because I missed it completely. Tales of Drag Queen Orgies and A Transvestite’s botched Lobotomy… Jesus, I wish I had understood the lyrics, I might have had a much different experience (in a good way because that just sounds pretty fucking great). I should probably explain this though. It’s not that I don’t pay attention to the lyrics or I just don’t get it, my problem is and I have this in general life in general is that I have a hard time understanding what people say. I’m not deaf, I can hear perfectly well but I constantly seem to misunderstand or mishear what people say. This happens especially with music, if the vocals get drowned out or the singer has a thick accent or mumbles, I never know what the lyrics are. I’m like the king of misheard lyrics or you know, it just sounds like Gibberish to me. If you want to understand what I’m saying, I always watch movies with subtitles on because sometimes I just couldn’t understand what they said. For music, once I know what the lyrics are, I can finally hear the singer saying it, but mostly… unless the singer sings in a very comprehensible and clear way… I have a hard time catching what the lyrics are, hence why I missed out on this weird and strange lyrical content that would have made me love my first experience much more. This is also why I’m really bad at quoting things… I can’t explain this phenomenon, it’s something that just is.

Anyway, I think it was a smart decision for the band to get rid of Andy Warhol and part ways with Nico (who is, thank god, not on this album anywhere) which allowed them to experiment more with the noise rock genre. I’m glad they did because not only did we get to see a different side to the band but they got to show off their expertise on a completely different level. Might not be a fan of the first, but definitely enjoyed this one.

Thanks for the pleasant surprise Velvet Underground, you did good.

Song of Choice: Sister Ray

-Bosco

 

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